Former NBA player and CBS Sports analyst Greg Anthony called Shabazz Muhammad a “once-in-a-generation talent” in 2012 when he was in college. It’s just taken the third-year player a bit longer to get going.
Overcoming Tourette syndrome as a child, an NCAA investigation that eventually led to him being reinstated at UCLA in 2012 and overweight issues leading into last summer, Muhammad is now one of the few bright spots for the Timberwolves as the team’s consistently productive sixth man.
In January, the 23-year-old has been averaging 14.8 points on 47.8 percent shooting in 27.9 minutes per game—up from 17.4 in December. Some of his most unique skills unfold around the basket: his post play, lefty hook shots and second-chance scoring, utilizing his bigger strength as a shooting guard at 223 pounds to grab 1.4 offensive boards per game this month. Only Tony Allen and P.J. Tucker, according to NBA.com/Stats, have a higher offensive rebound percentage than Muhammad (6.1 percent) for players 6’6″ and shorter with a minimum of 30 games.
The NBPA caught up with the southpaw in Houston last week before his pregame warmup to chat about his recent hot streak, unorthodox training routine with Navy Seals elements, off-the-court interests—including a passion for Star Wars—and much more.
Jared Zwerling: You’ve been on a roll this month. What’s been working for you?
Shabazz Muhammad: I just got an opportunity. My minutes have been increased a lot. I’m playing 20, 25 to 30 minutes. I had the ability to be a good player in this league—just using the opportunity to do it.
JZ: What have you put into that preparation?
SM: I just think my work ethic. I’m in the gym a lot after practice getting shots up and working on my ball-handling—even on the defensive end.
JZ: When you’re on the bench, how do you keep your mind locked in for that moment when your name is called?
SM: You watch the pace and flow, and that kind of helps me out a lot when I get in the game. And I know pretty much when I’m going to get in the game—about that five-minute mark in the first quarter. So I’m always ready for it and just getting ready to come in the game with that energy.
JZ: What’s your bread and butter offensively right now?
SM: I think my driving ability. I’m much quicker this year. I can really take half the dribbles, especially off pick-and-rolls and dribble hand-offs. And my tenacity on the offensive glass is something that really helps me out a lot. I think that’s something that really makes me a versatile player.
JZ: You had weight issues in the past. Do you feel a lot leaner?
SM: Definitely. I was doing a lot of sand work last summer. I’m going to continue that next summer, and I’m going to be even stronger.
JZ: What was your training routine day to day last summer?
SM: I was in San Francisco with this trainer, Frank Matrisciano, that I usually work out with. Blake Griffin worked out with him also his first two years [in the NBA]. That’s how [Griffin] really got his bounce. It’s really just a lot of sand work and a lot of hills. It’s really hard, like Navy Seals type stuff. It really helped me lose 25 pounds. I was working out three times a day, every day. I’m going to do the same routine next summer.
JZ: Coming out of high school, you were labeled as the next James Harden. How do those previous high expectations compare to where you are right now?
SM: I think it’s starting to come along for me. My opportunity is there and I always knew I was going to be a really good player. Coming out of high school with all the controversies in college, it really didn’t help me out a lot. But I think this year is big for me and next year I can be an even better player.
JZ: You have a future Hall of Fame voice in your corner. How has Kevin Garnett helped you?
SM: For sure, he’s great. He’s so energetic and I’m an energetic guy, too, so he always gets me going with motivational stuff, and how he speaks and stuff like that. So it’s really good for [the team].
JZ: What are your interests off the court?
SM: Mostly video games, just hanging out. In Minnesota, there’s not a lot to do, which is kind of a good thing. It’s really cold, so we play video games a lot. I go to the gym and get my shots up and stuff like that.
JZ: Do you use the Gun basketball shooting machine?
SM: Yeah, I use the Gun a lot. I usually go to the [Timberwolves’ practice center] by myself at 10 or 11 at night. I’ve been using the Gun for threes, and my three-point percentage has really increased in practice. That’s something that I look at.
JZ: You aim for a certain number of makes?
SM: Yeah. I usually do a lot of corner threes, just to make sure I can get 60 percent out of 100 shots. It’s really been working for me.
JZ: Back to video games. What do you play?
SM: Mostly I play Call of Duty online a lot. A bunch of guys on our team play, like Andrew [Wiggins] and Zach [LaVine]. I also play 2K and sports games. I like Star Wars, too.
JZ: See the new Star Wars movie?
SM: Yeah, it was great. I liked it a lot. I watched all the Star Wars movies.
JZ: Do you even have the action figures?
SM: Oh, no, I don’t have the action figures. But when I was a kid, I used to have the lightsaber.
JZ: Before you head out for warmups, what are some of your goals looking ahead?
SM: I just think continuing to play hard. I know I’m auditioning myself every time I’m out there, so that’s something I’ve got to do. I know I can score the ball and stuff like that, so I’ve just got to do the little things to make myself better.
Jared Zwerling is the Senior Multimedia Writer for the NBA Players Association, bringing an extensive basketball background from his time at the NBA, ESPN, CBS Sports, Sports Illustrated and most recently Bleacher Report. Follow Jared on Twitter and Instagram.